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12 Tools to explore during Computer Science Week

The Hour of Code takes place annually during Computer Science Education Week. The week is in recognition of the birthday of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, a computing pioneer.

The purpose of participating in Hour of Code is to show that anyone can code and highlight how vital computer science knowledge is for today’s students. Data provided on Code.Org supports the growing need for students to have opportunities to learn about and develop skills in coding and computer science.

For years, I had my students participate in the Hour of Code during that time in December but did not do more than those activities. However, since first participating in the Hour of Code in December of 2018, I’ve tried to include more activities and bring in more resources for my students throughout the year. There are many options out there to choose from, and during the Hour of Code, students from more than 180 countries participate in the available activities.

Read more: Getting started with STEM in your classroom!

So why do students need to build these skills? It has been reported that there will be 3.5 million jobs available by 2025 that require STEM skills which include coding. With this knowledge, while we recognize that there is a growing need for students to develop skills in coding and STEM-related fields, there can be either real or perceived barriers to providing these opportunities for students.

Possibilities might include lack of resources, student schedules are already full, or perhaps a perceived lack of knowledge by educators when it comes to bringing coding into our classrooms. For some, it can also be a lack of confidence in knowing where to begin or a hesitancy to start if we don’t feel confident enough, which was the case for me.

With this recognized need for coding and STEM skills, it is important to spark student curiosity which might create an interest in a future career. More importantly, it helps all students to develop essential 21st-century and workplace skills.

Tools to engage students during Computer Science Week

Coding is not just about learning to write a program. It’s about connecting with learning and building relationships in the process. It is an opportunity to help our students to build critical thinking and problem-solving skills and helps promote the development of SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) skills and foster peer collaborations. With these options, students can work independently or with peers, in our classrooms or at home.

 Here are twelve options to explore:

    1. CodaKid

      CodaKid is a learning platform for students ages 7-14. Through CodaKid, students explore coding, game design, programming, and even website design. Also available are online courses that include Minecraft and Roblox.

    2. Code with Google 

      Code with Google is focused on closing equity gaps in computer science opportunities and it provides free resources for students. Google CS First, for middle school students, has programming explorations and lessons which include scripts and resources for teachers which makes it even easier to get started.

      Read more: Why should teachers encourage Computational Thinking?

    3. CodeforLife

      CodeforLife offers free resources for teaching coding to students of all ages. Some of the options include basic coding through Blockly and other more advanced topics such as learning to code using Python. There are many helpful resources for teachers and students to get started. 

    4. CoderZ

      CoderZ is a cloud-based option where students can code 3D robots. Some of the courses available are broken into age groups and include options such as CoderZ Adventure for ages 6 through 10, Robotics 101 which is a self-paced program for students ages 11 through 14, and Python gym for students ages 15 and older. Students can write and test their own code and receive immediate results based on their work, which is so important for helping them build skills.

      Read more: 3D printing, drones, and AI — The future of STEM education?

    5. Grasshopper

      Grasshopper is a fun way to learn about coding. It was named after Grace Hopper, a pioneer in computer science, and is a great choice for beginners. Grasshopper will work well for adult learners who are interested in building their coding skills. Some of the topics available include animations, array methods, fundamentals, web page design and more. Grasshopper is free on Android and iOS and is also available through the Web. 

    6. Hopscotch

      Hopscotch is an app (iPad/IPhone) that enables students (ages 8-14+) to learn about coding by creating a game, changing a drawing into an animation, or exploring the projects that have been shared to the gallery. Hopscotch offers a free account for teachers.

      Read more: Promoting student well-being through serious games

    7. Kubo coding

      Kubo coding  is  a good program for starting with elementary students, specifically  grades K through 5. Students can build their coding skills through a tag tile programming language which is a puzzle-like coding concept. Kubo Play is a new simulation tool that works well for blended learning experience by giving students hands-on coding activities and 300 tasks that cover ISTE standards for coding.

    8. Mblock

      Mblock makes it easy to get started with coding by choosing to code with blocks or code with Python. They have featured coding products and additional resources such as online coding training for Scratch, robotics programming, and Python. There are also sample projects where students can view the code and then start creating their own project.

      Read more: STEAM: STEM plus Arts, for a more enriching learning experience

    9. Microsoft

      There are several resources available for free for educators to choose to bring the STEM curriculum into the classroom. The options include Minecraft education, Make Code, and Hacking STEM

    10. Ozobot

      Ozobot has been a favorite of the students in my STEAM classes each year. Ozobot is a one-inch robot that offers two choices for coding: using the screen and also screen-free through the use of markers and color codes. Training for teachers is available online, and there is also a library full of resources to get started.

    11. Scratch Jr

      Scratch Jr is a free coding app for children ages 5-7. Using Scratch Jr., kids can build coding skills by creating their own projects or designing their own games.

      Read more: How STEM is preparing students for future careers

    12. Tynker

      Tynker is a coding platform that offers activities for different age groups. Options include Tynker Jr (picture and block coding), Tynker (Block and Swift coding) and Mod Creator (for Minecraft add-ons). Also available through Tynker are self-paced online courses and a curriculum package for schools. Tynker has block and text-based courses and more than 3,700 learning modules to choose from.

Wrapping up 

Having more choices available makes it easier to offer learning that meets students’ specific interests or needs and promotes engagement while sparking curiosity for learning.

When we give students opportunities to engage in more student-driven, independent, hands-on learning, it attaches more meaning and authenticity to the work that they're doing. It also gives students a chance to engage in something different and helps them build the types of skills that they will need moving forward.

For more ideas and to see some of the events and activities from this year’s Hour of Code week which is taking place from December 6-12, head to the site or check out the hashtags on Twitter for #HourofCode and #CSEdweek.

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